Becoming, experiencing and practicing motherhood was a big shift in the daily life of Oda Projesi artist collective and its artistic practice. When we wanted to approach the issue, we realised that we have three different but interconnected approaches.
BIG MAMA STONES ¹
by Seçil Yersel
From my side I wanted to look at the so-called “evil/negative” side of women, the witchy side, believing that it has positive connotations in contrast to its first meaning. My point is not to romanticize or sympathize with witches, but to look at and even remember the witchyness as a power, a potential, a state of living and perceiving the world differently. The encouragement of the sweet loving embracing mother who takes care of her child is problematic. As is the depiction of the mother who is always available, and manages responsibly. This attitude obstructs and stigmatizes our instinctive, animalistic, wild side. The idealised depiction of the woman; socially, economically and religiously, is of a woman who is supporting and nurturing. The fact that the mother who instrumentalizes herself is satisfied when it works and cannot get out of her role as long as it works, at some point causes the family “to abuse” the mother (woman) regardless of the child’s awareness. How does a woman prevent herself from being instrumentalized? Self-care, healing, remembering our archaic power and solidarity are inevitable. Whether you realize it or not, I think there’s a wild, witchy, autonomous side to every woman, and in order to reclaim our own, we must re-remember our primal, creative spirit.
Let’s look at the etymological origins of the word witch in a few languages. Cadı in Turkish originates from the Persian cadu with the same meaning which is based on the Sanskrit yatu (sorcerer, evil spirit). Its equivalents in Western languages are based on the Germanic wicker (fortune teller). “The world had to be disenchanted for capitalism to dominate the world.” In her book, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primordial Accumulation, Silvia Federici describes how capitalism emerged from the spirit of the inquisition. Federici describes the witch figure as “the embodiment of a world that capitalism must destroy: the infidel, the healer, the disobedient wife, the woman who dares to live alone, the obeah woman, who put poison in her master’s food and incites the slaves to rebellion”. In Federici’s words: “The body had to die so that the labor force could live.” I am a woman of a generation (1973) that grew up with sexist tales like Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella and Rapunzel. Here I wanted to share my first experiences with witches at an early age; when I was 10 years old, we performed Snow White in theater. ( Strangely enough, I remember that the fathers took an active part in the preparation of this theater piece (like Grimm Brothers re-telling and interpreting the stories they collected in villages). I can’t quite remember if I had chosen to be a stepmother, an evil queen, or whether I was assigned this role. “The new queen was a very beautiful, but very wicked woman. She has a magic mirror that can talk”, in this piece we played in the forest, which I remember from the Grimm fairy tale, I look in a mirror and ask, “mirror mirror, tell me, is there someone more beautiful in this world than me”, I am wearing a dress my mother had when she was my age. The magic mirror reflects the masculine language that states that women should be beautiful. What I see in the mirror when I look at myself, could be what the male eye looking at me sees. Even if I was Snow White instead of the evil queen, I could have survived only by serving seven male dwarves and then be killed by my jealous stepmother, awakened by the handsome prince, and married on the spot.
Claim your witchy side!
THE BANALITY OF CARE
by Özge Açıkkol
The concept of “care” with all its connotations, ranging from the hierarchical and disproportionate relationship produced by the act of care to “support” and “solidarity” creates two questions: Who determines the needs of a person? How is it possible to become a subject?
Literally, caring is the basic reproductive act that parents and especially women perform. Since the pandemic began and all the world was trapped at home, the work of caring has invaded life. It is something I do “naturally” without thinking or noticing. But in today’s world reproduction work has increased so much that it has ceased to be natural and I felt the need to take a distance from this action to be able to understand and address this issue.
After I became a mother, I started to think about how I could extend the act of caring both in theory and in practice. Thus, I thought that I could get rid of the gender roles and the institutionalized aspects of motherhood that had stuck with me. In 2012, after my son Rona was born, we entered very turbulent times socially and politically in Turkey. The first year of my motherhood coincided with the Gezi Park events, followed by more complex times. I started to ask why we are reduced to mothering and care work? Am I only the mother of my child? On the other hand, this question coincided with the increase of solidarity groups after the Gezi events. Then, with the influence of my past, reflecting on the means of creating face-to-face relations with communities like Oda Projesi, I started to take part in various solidarity groups. Then I came across Silvia Federici’s preface for her book Revolution at Zero Point: “…through the day-to-day activities by means of which we produce our existence, that we can develop our capacity to cooperate and not only resist our dehumanization but learn to reconstruct the world as a space of nurturing, creativity, and care.” (2011)
Care has two opposite sides and those have the potential to transform into each other at any moment. When does care turn from being a “loving, sustaining, supportive” action to dominating the person receiving care? This issue is not addressed much because it is thought that the “care” is absolute and to discuss its various aspects is usually a taboo. In reference to Hannah Arendt’s The Banality of Evil, I think the fact that the act of caring is open to abuse or to be abused has to do with “banality”. In The Banality of Evil, Arendt follows the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the leading figures of the holocaust, and interprets the steps taken by Eichmann on the way to the holocaust, as “unrealistic and thoughtless” which “could have caused greater destruction than all the evil instincts in man would do”. Every action that becomes ordinary has the potential to be an action done without thinking or being aware.
The other side of care is the invisibility and the loss of the subject in motherhood. The mediocrity of care, that is, seeing it as an ordinary job, also means devaluing it. Is it possible to measure the value of care? Domestic labor has the potential to turn into “exploitation” even if the salary is paid. It is possible to be on strike in a factory, but it is not conscientiously possible to stop the care work at home. As the act of care, paid or unpaid, is seen as mundane, this possibility of abuse exists alongside the act of care.
Does art really have the power to make everything visible? Motherhood as an issue is almost non-existent. It is necessary to think about why women’s care labor is still not visible enough in the art scene which has the power to make room for radically critical works. Even in the claim that “life and art” are intertwined, care, housework and motherhood do not take up much space. It is necessary to look again at what kind of life is claimed to be intertwined with which kind of art? What are the main reasons for the act of caring, through which life is actually maintained, but is hidden under the appearance of another life? Maybe when the answer is more clear it is possible to develop more ideas and tactics to spread the action of caring , which means support and solidarity, to other aspects of life.
OPENING A PASSAGE
by Güneş Savaş
Catfight, rivalry, masculinization of women, women’s circles, witches, all these terms carry deep empathetic ties and they all share a common fate; the solidarity of the oppressed. Femininity has many different faces. The notion of sisterhood is the luminous opening in which I will try to find my way. To be branches of a large tree growing in separate directions. Subject to the same rules and needs, but reaching towards the light in different ways. Side by side but still distant. Just like the artist collective Oda Projesi that I am part of. (Growing up in a collective structure made up of women.) In a space covered by a tree , many forms of life and existence are sheltered layer by layer. The relationships between these different layers and modes of being are delicate, as are the relationships between women. Sisterhood arises from this delicate balance.
Sometimes the mother of your child’s classmate, sometimes the woman sitting in front of you on the bus, and sometimes the stance of the peasant women who resist the construction of a mine on the bank of a river, grasps you. Women contain women. There are odd similarities between the teenage years and the early years of motherhood. In both periods, you need to have sisters; walking alone on that difficult road would otherwise beat you up. The power of the established; we unknowingly play the role assigned to us: “Motherhood”. You need to open a passage. Being true to yourself, not giving up on being yourself. That is, having children and not giving up on yourself. For that, you have to look at/after other women and have other women look at/after you. By “looking” here, I mean both to look and see as well as to take care of someone. Mothers are women who tailor time and pursue unexpected things and ideas. But what if a mother is also an artist? An artist mother continues to produce her art along with a lot of invisible work in daily life. Her ‘motherhood’ also remains invisible in her art since this is not a situation that is readily revealed to the public, whereas the paternity of any ‘Great Male Artist’ has always been without question. So, the motherhood of a female artist is not even an issue in art production, or is it? Both a mother and an artist? Come on, is this really still an issue in this century? Yes! Making art while cooking? In order not to go crazy as you cook and produce art at the same time, you need someone else, someone alike, another mother; that is a sister. You need someone you can talk to about art and motherhood. Based on this need, we, as Oda Projesi, have been talking to many artists and cultural producers since 2013 and archiving these conversations. We have been growing a project called ‘ANA’ since then. With this project, we are in the process of an in-depth experience and reflection on motherhood and artistic/cultural production. This process started in June 2013 with a project that we carried out with our sons in the scope of a residency programme in Denmark. How did our daily life and art practices take shape after becoming a “mother”? How did motherhood affect our production? We started to have conversations with women around questions related to this issue. We named our project ANA, inspired by the name of the institution that invited us, ANA – Astrid Noack’s Atelier (Ana means “mother” in Turkish). We continued similar meetings during the current pandemic. On the occasion of this project, we have entrusted ourselves to the women close and far and have taken their life-bearing tactics as our guide. While taking up the burden of the women participating in these conversations, we set our heart to take over their “care”, though for a very short time. Although these intentions may sound a bit too ambitious for an art project, when it comes to sisterhood, they certainly become achievable…